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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Why Do We Support Politicians Projecting Hatred?

Joseph Burgo, psychotherapist and author, has written about how religion and politics often provide us with sanctioned outlets for our hatred, reflecting the processes of splitting and projection. We are all aware of how these institutions split the populace, but, perhaps, we are not that familiar with the concept of projection.

Projection is a defense mechanism. Here is how it works -- when there are things too painful to bear or accept, we block them out or disavow them as we unconsciously disown awareness of the experiences. And because parts of our psyche don’t simply disappear when we disown them, they show up someplace else outside of us, and usually inside of somebody else. In essence, we "project" them to others. Such projection can be perfectly normal and acceptable.

Burgo explains how this works. For example, infants are completely helpless and have almost no understanding of their own experience; all they can do is make other people around them feel so uncomfortable that we’ll do something -- feed them, comfort them, change their diaper, etc. So in an entirely appropriate way, babies project their unbearable experience into us as a kind of communication.

(Joseph Burgo. "Hatred in Politics." After Psychotherapy. October 27, 2010.)

Of course, not all projection is warranted behavior. If grownups have unpleasant feelings that are hard for them to bear alone, and instead of being mature and self-aware of what is causing the discomfort, they simply choose to find something outside of them on which to project their pain, they practice the childish blame game.

Disgruntled politicians practice projection in their pitiful defense. In the political arena, participants routinely project their own shortcomings, distrust, and hatred onto others. They overtly criticize others for their own inabilities. Criticizing other people for doing something when you, in fact, are the guilty party is popularly referred to by the expression, "The pot calling the kettle black."

Intense emotion is the enemy of thought. Burgo says that emotion can be "a sentimental glow that blinds us to harsh reality" or "hatred that makes us unable to see the other side of an issue." He acknowledges that although the goal of a politician is to win, the political arena is a place where we should be having reasoned discourse about what’s best for our country. Instead, splitting and projection seem to dominate the talk, and intense emotion drives both politicians and voters.

Both liberal and conservative leaders spin agendas to elicit emotional responses from grassroots voters. Mean-spiritedness is everywhere. Lauren Ashburn, political analysis and news commentator, says ...

"All hatred is unacceptable, but political hate messages in particular have a far greater impact on the health of the country and the processes that are the core of our democracy. We know politics is always about the next vote, the next election. But this mentality to win control at all costs is having a profound and detrimental impact on the next generation of voters.

"The problem is hatred sells...


"What's needed to break away from the politics of hate is more constructive, respectful and intelligent conversation from both sides. Leaders with contradictory views need to at least view opponents as worthy partners in government. We need to make governing attractive to the next generation of leaders and above all, we need to remember that our kindergarten teachers were right."

(Lauren Ashburn. "Politics of Hate." The Huffington Post. May 25, 2011.)

Arthur C. Brooks -- social scientist, author, and president of the American Enterprise Institute -- says, "Whether or not we want to admit it, political hate is a demand-driven phenomenon. We are the ones creating a big market for it." Brooks sees our political hate as coming in three forms:

1. Hot Hate

"Imagine yourself yelling at the television, and you get the picture. Most Americans would be ashamed to say 'I hate Republicans' or 'I hate Democrats.' But our market preferences tell the true story. We reward professional political pundits who say or write that the other side is evil or stupid or both."

2. Cool Hate

"For some haters, the hot variety is a little too crude. They prefer “cool hate,” based on contempt, and express disgust for another person through sarcasm, dismissal or mockery.

Cool hate can be every bit as damaging as hot hate. The social psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman was famously able to predict with up to 94 percent accuracy whether couples would divorce just by observing a brief snippet of conversation. The biggest warning signs of all were indications of contempt, such as sarcasm, sneering and hostile humor. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic — which Mr. Gottman has done thousands of times — and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes. Disagreement is normal, but dismissiveness can be deadly.

"As it is in love, so it is in politics. With just an ironic smile, one can dismiss an entire class of citizens as uncultured rubes or mindless theocrats. Feigning shock and dismay at the resulting indignation simply adds insult to injury."

3. Anonymous Hate

"Political discourse has always had a shadowy component, all the way back to Thomas Paine’s pamphleteering in favor of American independence. But nothing has empowered casual vitriol in the Internet age like the pressure on news organizations to publish any and all anonymous feedback. This has scaled up our ability to express political hate with astonishing efficiency.

"Before you dismiss this as harmless chatter, consider a 2014 article in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences, titled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun.” Three Canadian psychologists found that habitual Internet commenting is strongly correlated with hateful personality pathologies. The total amount of time spent posting comments online correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. And this held especially true for those who relished 'trolling,' the anonymous posting of negative and destructive comments. The 5 percent of participants who listed trolling as their favorite activity earned the highest scores on those unsavory psychological measures.

(Arthur C. Brooks. "The Thrill of Political Hating." The New York Times. June 08, 2015.)

 How To Overcome Political Prejudice

Burgo suggests the following:

"Whatever your political alignment, try to imagine a typical member of the opposing party. I don’t mean the politicians but rather Joe or Jane Voter. You probably hold an image of such a person already, and it likely tends to stereotype. What is your fictional Joe Voter like? Is Jane Voter a caricature? How do you feel about him or her? Have you ever actually known somebody just like that in a more-than-casual way?

"Next try to humanize Joe or Jane. For the most part, we tend to associate with people who share our viewpoint, but no doubt you’ve come into contact with members of the “other side” who don’t fit your stereotype. They feel pain, struggle to make ends meet, and experience loss just the way you do. The point here is remove hatred from the field.



"Now for the real challenge: think about their political positions without automatically rejecting them. Any areas of agreement? Any merit to their arguments, once you strip away the overcharged emotional rhetoric? If you can’t respect their point of view, at least try not to view it with contempt and hostility."

(Joseph Burgo. "Hatred in Politics." After Psychotherapy. October 27, 2010.)

My Take

Of course, I believe we allow politicians, the news media, and others with self-serving bias to project blame and spread hatred. I believe we are ultimately responsible because we refuse to accept the responsibility for intelligently choosing our views and our political candidates without letting contempt, hatred, and blame fog our vision. When this happens we allow our emotions to control our logic, and we readily "buy into" political tactics like splitting and projection.

Even though we do this disservice to ourselves, we cannot become apolitical, stop voting, and remain convinced malice is at the core of our democracy. Our two-party system should ideally promote the stability of the government as members of these parties with their divergent interests seek election, gain a majority, and then come together in compromise for the common good. The two-party system should moderate the animosities of political strife.

The recent increase in political polarization is conducive to creating hatred of the opposition while the so-called "permanent campaign" encourages constant attack of the opposition. Stubborn adherence to polarity creates dissension. And, strong dissension then creates stagnation. Besides, compromises for wise decisions never completely satisfy pure principles. The resistance to compromise undermines practices of mutual respect that are essential for a robust democratic process.

Amy Gutmann -- President of the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science -- and Dennis Thompson -- Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University have written a paper titled "The Mindsets of Political Compromise" that is excellent reading. Gutmann and Thompson write ...

"Political compromise is difficult in American democracy even though no one doubts it is necessary. It is difficult for many reasons, including the recent increase in political polarization that has been widely criticized. We argue that the resistance to compromise cannot be fully appreciated without understanding its source in the democratic process itself, especially as conducted in the U.S. The incursion of campaigning into governing in American democracy--the so called 'permanent campaign' -- encourages political attitudes and arguments that make compromise more difficult.


"These constitute what we call the uncompromising mindset, characterized by politicians' standing on principle and mistrusting opponents. This mindset is conducive to campaigning, but not to governing, because it stands in the way of necessary change and thereby biases the democratic process in favor of the status quo. The uncompromising mindset can be kept in check by an opposite cluster of attitudes and arguments--the compromising mindset--that inclines politicians to adapt their principles and respect their opponents. This mindset is more appropriate for governing, because it enables politicians more readily to recognize and act on opportunities for desirable compromise."

(Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson. "The Mindsets of Political Compromise." 
Perspectives On Politics, 8. 2010)

Please read the entire article by clicking here: http://www.upenn.edu/president/meet-president/Mindsets-Political-Compromise.

We can do a great service for democracy by vowing to support and elect candidates who are open to compromise and who are unwilling to project problems upon the opposition. What a wonderful day it will be when politicians rededicate themselves to working together and finding positive common ground. We can dream.

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